I love sugar cookies. Love them. There is this family story that involves an elementary-school-age me spending hours arranging individual sprinkles on these miniature Christmas cookies so they would all be perfect (i.e. two blue sprinkles for eyes on an angel cookie, a few yellow sprinkles on her head for a halo). I am a little less insane now. But only a little.
What I like most about sugar cookies is that they can be made and decorated to fit just about every occasion. I may have even made sugar cookies that included profanity. And one telling my brother to get a job.
Since it is Fourth of July, I decided to go with all stars — some tiny, some medium sized. I also have a weird thing about decorating them: I don’t want them all to look the same. Obviously a red-white-and-blue theme doesn’t leave a lot of room for variation, but I was able to think of a few combinations. Many of them involved the following:
I have tried a lot of sugar cookie recipes. The one that came with my Williams-Sonoma Christmas cookie set was not soft enough. Many of them call for hours of chilling the dough. One interesting recipe (from fellow Bulldawg Alton Brown) involves using powdered sugar for rolling out the dough, instead of flour. But my favorite came on the back of the label on some Wilton cookie cutters. The only problem is that I keep losing it.
The cookies are actually fine by themselves — you don’t have to frost or decorate them. But decorating is the whole point, right? So I have included a recipe for a very simple icing/glaze that dries basically clear and will keep sprinkles attached to the cookies. You don’t really need anything fancier.
Sugar cookies (makes about 6 dozen if your cookie cutter is small)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg (at room temperature is best)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy*. Beat in egg and vanilla. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Do not chill dough. On a floured surface, roll each ball out to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut using cookie cutters dipped in flour.
Cover baking sheets with silicone mat or parchment paper. Bake cookies until they’re lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on pan for a few minutes, then move to a cooling rack (or flat plate).
*If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a regular hand-held electric mixer. Just make sure the butter-sugar mixture is very fluffy before you add the rest of the ingredients.
Mix together about 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and 5 teaspoons of milk. Add more milk or powdered sugar if necessary to make icing thicker or thinner. Spread a thin layer of icing on a few cookies at a time, then decorate with sprinkles. Allow icing to dry before storing cookies.